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    What's Up with U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

    continued

    EPA to the Rescue

    The EIA used to actually calculate and report its own U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions numbers. That EIA overall GHG inventory was discontinued in 2011, due to mid-year budget cuts, according to an EIA source.

    However, the EIA has never been the source of the official U.S. inventory.

    The official U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory has been produced for many years by the EPA, following detailed international reporting protocols. It's presented to the United Nations every April, in a careful and fairly hard-to-read formal report.

    The most recent official EPA inventory, reported in April 2012 and showing total U.S. emissions for 2010, shows our emissions going up that year:

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    The current EPA inventory report shows total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for 2010 up 3.2% over 2009 emissions, with an average annual growth rate from 1990 through 2010 of 0.5%.

    It's hard to say what increase or decrease the U.S. inventory for 2011 will show, when the EPA releases it in April 2013, or what the inventory for 2012 will show when it comes out in April 2014.

    Unless someone is prepared to duplicate the EPA's work, and do it faster, we can expect to wait for those numbers.

    Bottom Line

    U.S. major media and others have been trumpeting a false meme of declining U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, spinning off from EIA data that actually shows a much narrower trend.

    While the primary EIA data represents a large, very specific piece of the overall U.S. emission inventory, it's fundamentally misleading to inflate its importance. Nonetheless, this seems to have been done regularly by the EIA itself, and to an even greater degree by downstream users of EIA information.

    In the past, EIA produced an overall emissions inventory. And because energy consumption is easier to collect and report on quickly than other types of emissions, they continue to produce reports including U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use, which the EIA releases at a pace tantalizingly close to real time.

    No doubt it's frustrating to media and officials who love to report on realtime score cards, but the only official U.S. greenhouse gas emission inventory comes from the EPA. It takes a while for all the data to be collected and complied — and impatience is no reason to misrepresent the data available.

    In any case, year-to-year ups and downs in U.S. emissions are not very meaningful relative to the scale of the climate mitigation challenge we face together.

    In the U.S., we need to be planning and faithfully implementing, in every sector of our economy, in every government, agency, and large organization, roughly 5% reductions in total greenhouse gas emissions, every year, year-on-year, for the rest of our lives.

    And no blip in annual emissions, whether actual or invented, is going to rescue business-as-usual from this fundamental need for real climate action.

    Kevin Matthews is Editor in Chief of ArchitectureWeek. More by Kevin Matthews

     

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